First time I visited an Anglican church, I was afraid to go forward for communion for two reasons.
- First, I had no idea how you were supposed to receive it. Dip the bread? Drink the cup? Bow, kneel, make the sign of the cross? It kinda seemed like everyone was doing something different.
- Second, I wasn’t sure how to receive in a spiritual sense. I wasn’t sure what they meant to be doing by celebrating communion.
If you are visiting an Anglican church for the first time, you may feel the same. So here is what we believe is happening during communion in this post, and then in the next post, some instructions on how to receive.
What is Happening during Holy Communion
We are obeying Jesus.
We are simply doing what Jesus said to do, and trusting him to make himself present to us.
- “Do this in remembrance of me…”
- “He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
- “This is my body…This is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you.”
We aren’t intending to do any more or less than obey Jesus by taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it with the blood of his new covenant.
Baptized believers partake of and participate in the body and blood of Christ.
The Anglican Articles of Religion say that
such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ. (Article XXVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper.)
If you believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized, you are partaking of Jesus at his holy table. This is taken straight from the letter of St Paul to the Corinthians:
the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16)?
Participation means that we are remembering Jesus’ death for us as a past event, but also receiving him right now.
Why baptism first? Because Baptism is when Christ himself initiates us into the Body of Christ. It is the sacrament of beginning, and communion is the sacrament of the ongoing.
Again, this is straight Bible.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13).
We receive Holy Communion with faith.
Receiving with faith means that we have been baptized, that we believe in him, that we repent of our sins, and that we turn to Jesus for our salvation. It means that we believe that he will do what he promises, and that he will be present with us in the breaking of the bread.
Christ is present in Holy Communion, even if we don’t know exactly how.
We believe in something called “the real presence of Christ” which means that we know he is present in communion, but we aren’t going to require you to speculate on exactly how he does that.
Receiving with faith does not mean that you have to have a specific theology on how Christ is present through bread and wine, his body and blood. You simply believe that he is, and you are confessing that he is your Lord and Savior.
For us, the communion is an “altar call.” We are being called to the altar once again, to receive Christ. Our baptism signs and seals our salvation, and our weekly communion refreshes us with signs of his presence and grace.
Holy Communion should not be taken lightly.
Anglicans also believe in warning people, and this is because of St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. He warned them not to receive communion “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27).
We believe this means that we should confess our sins, and be committed to reconciliation with others, and then come to the table. It is dangerous to come to the table unless you truly believe in Jesus.
This is not to say that you should spend sleepless nights examining the strength of your faith, and questioning your motives over and over. It is to say that if you have declared unbelief in Jesus, or are just receiving communion “for show” or something like that, that you should not receive. It is dangerous for your soul.
If you are working through some doubts, then, in fact, you should come to communion as a way to strengthen your faith.
We receive Holy Communion together.
Finally, we receive by faith together. Communion is a shared, holy meal of the gathered church. Gather with God’s people, around his table, and receive the signs of his goodness and love for you and for us.
Ready for some practical instructions?
This post originally appeared on 2013-06-03. Updated on 2018-10-05
Greg is the founder of Anglican Compass (previously known as Anglican Pastor). He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.